L.A. Times Review of “Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Big Horn”

From the L.A. Times:

Nathaniel Philbrick

Viking: 466 pp., $30

For many young and impressionable readers in the 1960s, there was an incisive and hilarious book, Thomas Berger’s “Little Big Man,” that did more than any other to replace the outdated narrative of the Old West as a contest between cowboys (good guys) and Indians (bad guys) with a reversal of roles, portraying European Americans as swashbuckling clods who committed genocide on the good-hearted natives.

George Armstrong Custer, once known as a brave maverick, came across as a deranged maniac in this new story. The battle of Little Bighorn, where Custer and his U.S. Army forces were famously massacred, was transformed from a noble “last stand” into an idiotic boondoggle. Director Arthur Penn’s movie version of “Little Big Man,” released in 1970 and starring Dustin Hoffman, gave this new perspective an even wider audience.

Nathaniel Philbrick, a Nantucket, Mass.-based historian and author of the maritime delights “Mayflower” and “In the Heart of the Sea” admits to having fallen under the sway of “Little Big Man,” as did countless others in our generation, believing it to be more accurate than the pap our parents were fed.

After writing about battles between Massachusetts settlers and natives at the close of “Mayflower,” Philbrick grew curious about the subsequent stages of that struggle, and he shifted his gaze two centuries later to the late 1800s, when the saga of Native Americans neared a tragic crescendo. The story of Custer and Little Bighorn, as an iconic myth at the core of the old civilized-against-heathen storyline and also as a supreme instance of white man’s folly in the “Little Big Man” version, seemed irresistible.

Philbrick set out to find out what really happened at Little Bighorn. It was not an easy task. Because Custer and every one of his officers and soldiers were killed, none could leave an account for posterity. Sioux warriors who were later interviewed by U.S. Army forces apparently “told their white inquisitors what they wanted to hear,” Philbrick notes. The author dug and sifted through previously private letters from soldiers, examined the ship logs on the riverboats that supplied Dakota territory, evaluated Custer’s colorful past and also studied the perspective of Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief who won at Little Bighorn.

Continue reading

Lakota Independence from the US?

From Indianz:

Lakota Freedom Delegation withdraws from US

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A group called Lakota Freedom Delegation is withdrawing from the treaties their ancestors signed with the U.S. and is setting up their own independent nation. Four activists, including Russell Means, were in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to announce their plans. They said the federal government has failed to abide by 33 treaties that promised land, health care, education and other services. “Our people want to live, not just survive or crawl and be mascots,” Phyllis Young said, Agence France-Press reported. Members of the new nation won’t pay taxes. The new nation’s territory covers western parts of North and South Dakota and Nebraska and eastern parts of Wyoming and Montana.

Get the Story:
Lakota group pushes for new nation (The Sioux Falls Argus Leader 12/20)
Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US (AP 12/20)
Lakota group declares sovereign nation status (The Rapid City Journal 12/20)

Relevant Links:
Lakota Freedom Delegation – http://www.lakotafreedom.com